Rishi Sunak is poised to announce a major rowing back on several green policies, including pushing back plans to ban the sale of new petrol and diesel cars – in a step that threatens to provoke a row with environmentalist Tories.
The Prime Minister is understood to be considering ripping up the pledge made by Boris Johnson in 2020 to ban new petrol cars within a decade, pushing the target date from 2030 to 2035.
He is also likely to water down Mr Johnson’s promise to ban new gas boilers by 2035, aiming instead to cut the number of installations by 80 per cent by that date instead.
The plans are expected to be set out in a major speech later this week, in which Mr Sunak will trumpet the UK’s commitment to tackling climate change, but will insist that the UK has done its fair share in leading the charge.
Press Association reports that some environmentalist Tory MPs are considering writing letters of no confidence in the Prime Minister if he goes ahead with the policy changes – while one Tory MP told i that colleagues were messaging the whips warning of a backlash if Mr Sunak waters down commitments.
Chris Skidmore, a Conservative former energy minister who has become increasingly outspoken on net zero, said any such move would be the “the greatest mistake” of Mr Sunak’s premiership adding: “It will potentially destabilise thousands of jobs and see investment go elsewhere. And ultimately the people who will pay the price for this will be householders whose bills will remain higher as a result of inefficient fossil fuels and being dependent on volatile international fossil fuel prices.”
Sir Alok Sharma, the former president of the COP26 climate summit, said that the UK “has been a leader on climate action but we cannot rest on our laurels…for any party to resile from this agenda will not help economically or electorally.”
Former levelling up secretary Simon Clarke said the Government “should be exceptionally careful of seeking to extract political advantage on this issue”.
Mr Sunak increasingly sees the approach to climate change as a major dividing line with Labour ahead of the next election, having seized upon the controversial expansion of London’s ultra-low emissions zone to secure victory in July’s Uxbridge and West Ruislip by-election.
Downing Street initially said it would “not comment on speculation” – but Prime Minister Rishi Sunak later said in a statement: “I know people are frustrated with politics and want real change. Our political system rewards short-term decision-making that is holding our country back. For too many years politicians in governments of all stripes have not been honest about costs and trade-offs. Instead they have taken the easy way out, saying we can have it all.
“This realism doesn’t mean losing our ambition or abandoning our commitments. Far from it. I am proud that Britain is leading the world on climate change. We are committed to Net Zero by 2050 and the agreements we have made internationally – but doing so in a better, more proportionate way.
“Our politics must again put the long-term interests of our country before the short-term political needs of the moment.
“No leak will stop me beginning the process of telling the country how and why we need to change. As a first step, I’ll be giving a speech this week to set out an important long-term decision we need to make so our country becomes the place I know we all want it to be for our children.”
Until now, ministers had repeatedly insisted that the ban on new petrol and diesel cars was going ahead in 2030, with Housing Secretary Michael Gove insisting it was “immovable”.
Mr Sunak also insisted the plan was still in place, telling broadcasters in July that the ban on new diesel and petrol cars has been “the Government’s policy for a long time,” adding: “It remains the Government’s policy.”
After the Uxbridge by-election, Downing Street said that it would undertake an informal review of the Government’s net zero policies in a bid to take a more “pragmatic” approach to cutting emissions.
i understands that the Business Secretary Kemi Badenoch has been relaying concerns from car manufacturers to Cabinet colleagues about the timetable of the petrol car ban.
While the Prime Minister is not expected to backtrack on the Government’s overall commitment to reaching net zero by 2050, he has increasingly argued that consumers and households should not be shouldered with additional burdens during a cost of living crisis.
As well as delays to petrol car bans and weakening the gas boiler plan, landlords will not be expected to meet new energy efficiency regulations, while the ban on off-grid oil boilers could be delayed, the BBC was first to report.
It follows Mr Sunak’s decision to delay new recycling rules that were due to come in next year until 2025.
A Labour Party spokesperson said: “This is a total farce. The country cannot go on with a Conservative government in total disarray, stumbling from crisis to crisis.
“Ministers need to urgently provide clarity on all eight of the policies reportedly up for review.”
Liberal Democrat climate and energy spokesperson Wera Hobhouse said: “What Rishi Sunak should see infront of him is the opportunity to embrace the industries of the future and protect the coming generations from the catastrophic impacts of climate change.
“Instead, he has cowered to the delayers and deniers like the disgraced Liz Truss and adopted wholesale their policies.”
Green Party MP Caroline Lucas said: “This decision would be economically illiterate, historically inaccurate and environmentally bone-headed. This absurd rollback will mean higher energy bills, colder homes, fewer jobs, more air pollution and more climate chaos.”
Climate campaigners and think-tanks have also heavily criticised the move.
Jess Ralston, head of energy at the Energy and Climate Intelligence Unit, said: “All of this would leave us more dependent on foreign oil and gas, less energy independent and with investors spooked.
“As the rest of the world is rushing to invest in net zero industries, any further rowing back by the UK would leave our international standing further tarnished.”
Friends of the Earth’s head of policy, Mike Childs, said: “Rolling back on key climate commitments as the world is being battered by extreme flooding and wildfires would be morally indefensible.
“It is legally questionable too as the UK has binding greenhouse gas reduction targets that it’s already in danger of missing.”
Hannah Martin, of Green New Deal Rising, said: “Once again this Government has shown that they are hell-bent on breaking their promises and doing nothing to stop climate chaos. Just weeks after the hottest summer on record Rishi Sunak has decided to ignore science and stoke a culture war.”
Ed Matthew, campaigns director for independent climate change think-tank E3G said: “If the Government delays or scraps regulations on insulation, electric vehicles and clean heat, then make no mistake, this will drive up energy bills by keeping households hooked on expensive oil and gas for longer.
“It will also damage the UK’s ability to compete by delaying the industrial transition to clean technology. Just as the United States, China and the European Union are racing ahead on green growth, Rishi Sunak appears ready to surrender. The economic damage to the UK could be catastrophic.”